by Eric Blume
With their new film, director David Mackenzie (Young Adam, Starred Up) and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) make one thing abundantly clear: they really, really hate banks. Hell or High Water is a sort of southwest answer to The Big Short, a tale of rural Texas poor on a Robin Hood mission.
Sheridan’s script was the winner of the 2012 Black List prize for best unproduced screenplay, a fact which feels surprising during the cliché friendly first half hour. Brothers Toby and Tanner Howard are characters we’ve seen many times before, with a sibling dynamic that’s not new either. Tanner (Ben Foster) is the wild bro released from prison, complete with a violent streak and true-blue redneck energy. Toby (Chris Pine) is the tender brother, a taciturn and emotionally bruised man trying to make things right. Together, they start robbing small Texas banks to secure money to save the family farm. As Counterpoint we have two Texas rangers on their case: Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), for whom this is the last big one before retirement(!), and partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham), the sage Native American sidekick.
For about the first thirty minutes, you sit in fear that this is all the film will be, a simple chase to the inevitable populated with stock characters. The only hope it has is to somehow deepen. Fortunately, it does...